News & Media
News and Media
Flooding in Chalco, Mexico, in February 2010 displaced thousands of people. / FLICKR-MagisRevista, by Enrique Carrasco S.J.
A new SEI report shows many climate-economics models, and the climate policies they guide, presume the poorest countries stay poor indefinitely; a more equitable and realistic approach is needed.
Economic development is essential to all countries, especially for those with large populations living in poverty, highly vulnerable to disasters and without access to clean water or energy. But as China’s economic explosion has shown, development can also bring much-higher greenhouse gas emissions.
For the world’s poorest countries, forgoing economic growth just to avoid more emissions is simply not an option. Yet as a new SEI report shows, most climate-economics models used to guide policy assume very little growth in the poorest countries – as if development were sure to fail.
Based on those projections, the models assume the poorest countries will use up a relatively small share of the global 21st century emissions budget, leaving more “emissions space” for the high- and middle-income countries and suggesting that mitigation efforts can be less ambitious.
A risky assumption
Even with little growth, the report finds, developed countries face a “policy gap” of thousands of gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2-e) – and with rapid growth in the poor countries, the gap could nearly double. A wiser approach, it suggests, is to support low-carbon development in poor countries and make deep emission reductions at home, ensuring both a safer climate and greater economic equity.
“Income inequality is of the utmost importance in understanding the diversity of climate impacts and emissions reductions costs around the world,” says Elizabeth A. Stanton, author of the report and senior economist at SEI-US. “By assuming that poor countries will stay poor these models give a free pass to richer countries to continue emitting more than their fair share. If, instead, incomes and emissions were expected to rise in low-income countries, richer countries would need much stronger climate policies.”
A multi-disciplinary collaboration
Stanton launched this project, dubbed “Development without Carbon”, after discussions with colleagues about the lack of climate-economics analyses focusing on low-carbon development and energy-poverty reduction. Along with her report, the project has produced a second report, by SEI-US researchers Marisa Escobar, Francisco Flores and Victoria Clark, that focuses on the viability of hydropower as a low-carbon energy source for Latin America and the Caribbean, given ongoing climatic changes.
Stanton notes that the chances of the world’s poorest countries growing as fast as China, or India, are slim – for the 45 lowest-income countries in her report, projected income growth is “much slower”. Still, she says, her goal is to draw attention to the “very pessimistic assumptions” in climate-economics models, which “don’t leave any room for the possibility that poverty might be eradicated.”
Relevance to climate negotiations
The report could also prove helpful to policymakers as they seek to solve a key dilemma in United Nations climate negotiations, Stanton says: translating “common but differentiated responsibilities”, a basic tenet, into a real-life allocation of emission-reduction and climate finance obligations.
“By taking both development and emissions reductions seriously, this analysis takes an important step towards fixing that problem,” she says. “Policymakers should be very wary of the modeling results that they use and make sure that they understand and agree with the basic assumptions behind analyses that claim to estimate the pace of emissions reductions that leads to greatest well-being for all.”
Learn more about Stanton’s report, Development without Carbon: Climate and the Global Economy through the 21st Century.
Learn more about the hydropower report, Energy-Water-Climate Planning for Development without Carbon in Latin America and the Caribbean.